Davos Agenda

Here's how to restore trust in technology

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Tech for Life can help businesses ensure technology continues to be a force for good. Image: Andy Kelly/Unsplash

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Davos Agenda

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting
  • Technology can help companies develop their purpose and drive change.
  • However, technology must be managed properly to benefit stakeholders.
  • Adopting the principles of Tech for Life, those who create and use technology can ensure it continues to be a force for good.

During the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting this week in Davos, as business leaders reassess their purpose and engage with all of their stakeholders, they will need to look at their organizations with fresh eyes and consider three bottom lines: sustainability, trust and profitability. And each must be balanced to create long-term value for stakeholders.

For many organizations, this is a profound change in approach. Moreover, it represents an inflection point in which the very fundamentals have changed – from the mass to the individual, the product to the platform, scale to speed.

Have you read?
Technology as a force for change

Throughout history, technology has helped us meet challenges. It has been an engine for greater prosperity, equality and health. The printing press, the steam engine and the development of electrical power are just three examples of technology that transformed our world for the better.

Today, whether augmenting our work with robots, connecting us to our loved ones around the world or using Machine Learning to improve tumor detection rates, technology has the potential to be an even greater force for good.

Indeed, technology is the force that will drive the transformation required for organizations to develop a wider purpose.

Click for progress

Technology is providing solutions to even the greatest challenges on the planet.

For example, we have the technology to make electricity sustainable, cheap and available for all. To deliver this requires both the adoption of existing technologies as well as intelligent electricity distribution and storage solutions.

Or what about food waste? The world wastes 500 million tons of food each year due to planning and handling issues. A.P. Møller – Mærsk is harnessing digital technologies to eliminate this kind of food waste, by using ‘connected” containers that share data. AI at the back end can then flag problems in the shipping chain and propose logistical improvements, potentially reducing food waste to less than a single percentage point.

Tech utopia or dystopia?

As leaders, we must use technology correctly if we are to meet the expectations of our new stakeholders. Yet we have seen how technology is open to abuse, misuse and malicious intent. And, with the benefit of historical perspective, we have seen how many of the noble uses of technology have given rise to unwelcome and unforeseen consequences.

Data is just one example of how technology can both work for us and against us. Analysis of the massive amounts of data we create unearths new insights into the world around us and reveals how it might be better managed. In the wrong hands, however, this same data can be used for commercial gains at the expense of individual privacy.

The same can be said of the smart meter. A positive use for this technology includes the optimization of power generation. Put to incorrect use, however, it could deliver personal data allowing targeted and unwanted advertising to private households.

The Tech for Life ratio, where a number below 1.0 indicates a positive impact of technology. Image: Tech for Life

There is also growing scrutiny of the business models driving the creation of technology. Big tech has been accused of holding profit alone above other considerations, while state-driven initiatives seek to gain wholesale access to some of the largest personal datasets on earth.

At the precise moment we require technology to be the driver of change to benefit people and the planet, we must ensure it commands trust. And we must accept accountability for the part we – as leaders, practitioners and innovators in tech – play in this.

Tech for Life

One track at Davos this year centers on the responsible use of technology. As Klaus Schwab notes, for the Fourth Industrial Revolution to benefit a wider group of stakeholders, and not just the usual few, it must be grounded in a debate around the use of technology.

Tech for Life is, in part, a response to that appeal. The movement has been founded on core principles set out in the Copenhagen Letter, the result of a meeting of 150 tech professionals who came together in Copenhagen during the 2017 Tech Festival to develop a manifesto for the future of technology. The letter called for action, right now.

A blueprint for responsible technology, Tech for Life is built around a series of principles:

  • Technology must make a positive contribution to society.
  • Technology must enhance the lives of its users.
  • Technology must create opportunities for all.
  • Technology must respect and enhance human rights.
  • Technology must be human-centered – at all times.

It also asks those in tech to create, use and manage technology with:

  • Purpose
  • Relevance
  • Respect
  • Responsibility
  • Openness

Only by working toward these principles can we put trust back into technology and ensure it continues to be a positive force for good, and help organizations reconnect to their stakeholders. Indeed, aligning an organization for profit and purpose through the Tech for Life principles helps it engage with a society increasingly demanding technology works for, and with, it.


What is the World Economic Forum doing about improving online safety?

Tech for Life comes at the right time for a new generation, a generation that wants to understand the impact of the technology it’s using and a generation that will embrace organizations that are transparent, responsible and sustainable.

I urge you to join the Tech for Life movement and help us leave the world a better place.

More information on Tech for Life, and the forthcoming book in the same name, can be found at www.techforlife.net.

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Related topics:
Davos AgendaFourth Industrial RevolutionEmerging TechnologiesArtificial Intelligence
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